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How to Become a Web Developer

What is a Web Developer?

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A Web Developer is a tech professional responsible for programming code that dictates how websites function. A Web Developer builds web pages from scratch in such a way that navigating the website is intuitive and easy for end-users. If a Web Developer performs their job correctly, the website should not be so simple that it does not appeal to advanced users, but it also shouldn’t be so complex that a beginner user gets lost or frustrated using the site.

Web Developer Responsibilities

Web Developers are responsible for everything it takes to create, build, operate, repair, and support websites and web applications. Web development is closely related to the job of designing the features and functionality of apps (web design). The term development is usually reserved for the actual construction of these things (that is to say, the programming of sites).

Web development can generally be divided into three parts: code that executes in a web browser and determines what customers or clients will see when they land on a website (client-side scripting); code that executes on a web server and powers the behind-the-scenes mechanics of how a website works (server-side scripting); and database technology, which helps to keep a website running smoothly and efficiently. If you’re working on a large-scale web project, it’s quite likely that these tasks would be divided among a team of Web Developers.

A Web Developer will use a variety of programming languages to build the front end and back end of websites, including HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and JavaScript. It is, however, possible to build a website without writing code by using a variety of website-creation tools (like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace) and content management systems (CMS), including WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal, TYPO3, and Adobe Experience Manager.

Where Do Web Developers Come From?

Web Developer is a role that tends to attract a lot of career changers who are drawn in by the abundance of job opportunities, solid salaries, and good benefits and perks that most Web Developer jobs seem to offer. As demand for Web Developers continues to grow –and the U.S. Bureau of Labor is forecasting the job market for Web Developers will grow another 15 percent by 2026 – the web development workforce has been welcoming a lot of new talent.

In fact, BrainStation’s 2020 Digital Skills Survey found that 54 percent of web development respondents began their career in a field other than development, and 57 percent have been in the field for less than five years.

What Background Do Web Developers Have?

Since there is no specific university or college degree for a career in web development, a Web Developer can come from all sorts of different educational backgrounds. Many people who want to become a Web Developer pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science, with an associate degree standing as the most common minimum educational requirement.

But as you dig deeper, you’ll find that there are many other proven pathways to becoming a Web Developer. In fact, roughly 80 percent of all Web Developers say they are at least, to some degree, self-taught.

It’s also increasingly popular to attend a short bootcamp, certification program, or online course to pick up the skills necessary to become a Web Developer in a relatively short amount of time.

Coding bootcamps are as popular as they are because trying to learn all of the necessary programming languages through self-teaching methods, YouTube tutorials and free online resources is time-consuming and often doesn’t really work.

To be a versatile Web Developer who can handle anything that a client might throw at you, you really must master a wide variety of programming languages, including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Structured Query Language (SQL), Python, and jQuery. A good coding or web development bootcamp will teach you all that in more in a short period -- around 15 weeks on average. And given the positive job environment, a talented Web Developer will likely get scooped up shortly after graduation, especially if they have a portfolio that shines.

Characteristics of a Successful Web Developer

Although different types of Web Developers do drastically different types of work, there would seem to be several characteristics that all great Web Developers share.

First, we must again address the technical side of things. And it’s not just about coding skills, although they’re very important. To put it simply, a Web Developer will spend a lot of time working on the computer, and that part can’t be a chore. To excel in web development, you have to genuinely enjoy learning new programming languages, experimenting with new web development tools, and fiddling with their code until everything is just right.

No matter which programming language you specialize in, the reality is that code can be unpredictable. As a Web Developer, you must maintain flexibility and have the ability to switch contexts or the scope of a project unexpectedly, and then go back to pick up where you left off. You need to be able to adapt and respond to issues when they arise (almost always unexpectedly and they’re often time-sensitive). Other technical skills beyond coding skills can be useful in web development, including graphic design skills and UX design skills.

Although most outsiders tend to think of Web Developer as a strictly technical role, in fact, many of the most important characteristics for a Web Developer to have would fall on the “soft” side of the skill spectrum.

For instance, developers need to have good critical thinking skills and an analytical mind. Problem-solving should be a passion for you –it’s a crucial part of programming. You also need to be able to balance considering both the big picture and the small details.

Good Web Developers also aren’t too proud to ask for help. As a Web Developer, when your code works – or, perhaps more importantly, when it doesn’t – you must not be afraid to ask “why” and keep digging till you find the answer. When working on a project, you should be comfortable asking superiors, colleagues, or clients questions to ensure you understand expectations and requirements and that your work is on the right track.

Another key characteristic? Empathy. Even as Web Developers find themselves in the weeds programming code, they must never forget that software is ultimately about the user. Good Web Developers must understand their users and constantly keep what they want top of mind.

Communication skills are also very important to Web Developers. You must be able to relate to both your client and your team. A great Web Developer is also a great listener, adept at really understanding what everyone involved -- from clients to stakeholders and finally to end-users -- really wants. Also, Web Developers not only work with other Web Developers, Web Designers, and Engineers but also other teams across your company. Web Developers might find themselves working closely with a marketing, support, or sales team, or working directly with clients. So you must be a team player. Whether you’re working remotely or alongside your team, collaboration, and communication with your peers and stakeholders is paramount to success.

Finally, Web Developers should be lifelong learners. There’s always something new to learn with tech, which is a huge draw for so many in the industry. Tech is also an incredibly dynamic and fluid industry. It’s constantly growing, changing, and evolving. As a member of the industry, you need to stay current and up-to-date with the industry and new technologies. BrainStation’s survey showed that 80 percent of Web Developers feel they would benefit from further digital skills training, even as 64 percent reported already pursuing more digital skills training or online courses. In other words, these are people who never stop learning.

Web Developers usually specialize in either front-end development – to put it quite simply, everything a user sees when they use a website or application – or back-end (server-side) development, while those versatile enough to do both are called Full-Stack Developers.

For those who don’t work in tech, the distinction between those roles and the other various roles relating to web development can be quite confusing. Here’s an overview of some of the job titles in web development:

  • Web Designer. This might sound obvious, but if “designer” is in the title, the job involves designing for the web. Web Designers literally decide and implement how websites look, feel, and work. Specific skills necessary for Web Designers would include design tools, HTML, CSS, and some JavaScript.

  • Front-End Web Developer. A Front-End Web Developer focuses on HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and light back end work, not just design. In some cases, a Front End Developer might implement the creations of a Web Designer. In some Front End Developer roles, there will be some design included but deeper skill in the other technologies is also demanded.

  • Back-End Web Developer. The work of a Back-End Web Developer is invisible to users but crucial to the functioning of a website. Back End Developers tend to work with a variety of programming languages such as Python, Ruby, and SQL. Other Back-End Developers are focused on developing mobile apps using languages like HTML5, C++, and Java.

  • Full-Stack Web Developer. To put it simply, a Full-Stack Developer is comfortable and skilled working on both the front end and the back end. It’s important to stress that to be a good Full-Stack Developer, you can’t be mostly strong on the front end and a little weak on the back end, or vice versa. You truly have to be a master of both. If you can accomplish it, you will be handsomely rewarded – Full-Stack Developers are in high demand and tend to have high salaries to match.

  • UX Designer. UX (User Experience) Designers specifically focus on studying and researching how people use a site, then completing changes for the better through the system and testing the results. Every web development professional on this list needs to consider user experience, but UX Designers live and breathe it.

Who Do Web Developers Work With?

At a big company, a web development team might include every single one of the above roles. Both Front-End and Back-End Web Developers enjoy the diversity of the colleagues they get to interact with, collaborating with design, marketing, sales, and product teams.

They also often participate in team meetings with Content Specialists, Graphic Designers, Software Developers, UI Designers, Client Services Managers, and more. Indeed, those who enjoy working as part of a team might be a good fit for web development; according to our survey, 54 percent of Web Developers were on teams larger than 10 people, and 15 percent were on teams larger than 100.

Reasons to Become a Web Developer

Though there are obviously a number of different specializations within web development, the bottom line is most jobs in web development are considered great careers in terms of salary, benefits and perks, work-life balance, and opportunity for advancement.

As we mentioned, there’s a dire shortage of skilled tech talent and Web Developers are among the most in-demand tech specialists, especially given the increasing need for companies to improve their mobile offerings. More than 80 percent of American Web Developers are employed full-time, with 73 percent reporting that they like their jobs. The average Web Developer is well-compensated, earning in excess of $80,000 per year on average. According to Indeed, Senior Web Developers made an average salary of $95,325.

In addition, Web Developers have the choice of working for an agency, working in-house for a company, or becoming their own boss and working freelance. Virtually every company you could think of in every industry you could think of hires Web Developers.

Thriving as a Web Developer does require a commitment to continuous learning. BrainStation’s survey found that the top three resources Web Developers use to boost their skills and stay on top of the latest trends were online forums, digital skills training options, and blogs.

The top trends on the horizon that Web Developers will have the biggest impact on web development over the next five years, according to the survey? AI (86 percent of respondents) and machine learning (84 percent), so any aspiring Web Developer would be well-served looking at how these technologies could change development forever. For a good Web Developer, that’s a fun challenge to consider.

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